It is a phenomenon that is gaining increasing popularity in the United States and now Switzerland is following the lead. According to news reports in Swiss papers the canton of Zurich is the first to try fitting body cameras on police to monitor their activity, particularly in case of an altercation.
The small body cameras can easily be attached to an officer’s helmet, glasses, shoulder or chest. The cameras are being placed to stop attacks or gather evidence to aid in the prosecution of offenders.
Police in Switzerland are known to be cooperative and the use of body cameras is seen as debatable particularly since their success in preventing violence has been doubted.
Nevertheless advocates for police cameras say that installing them could be helpful particularly when gathering evidence and documenting the course of events.
For example on December 12 2014 around 200 masked leftwing radicals fought with police in central Zurich the chaos was so out of hand that they even set fire to cars and bins. Several police officers were injured and massive damages worth thousands of francs occurred. That is why Zurich’s police force believes that installing the cameras is worth the effort in the first place.
“Violence toward police has increased massively over the years,” said Max Hoffmann general secretary of the Swiss Police Officers Federation. Given the increase in the numbers of violence geared towards police officers Hofmann thinks that installing them is worthwhile.
Meanwhile the head of security for the city of Bern, Reto Nause said that he strongly believes that police body cameras could be instrumental in gathering evidence and monitoring events.
“I believe that during difficult police operations body cameras can help gather evidence and document the course of events better. They can also rebut accusations that a police officer has acted disproportionately,” Nause told local news media.
Although some people might question the usefulness of installing such cameras in the first place, Nause said that cameras are a valuable tool for gathering evidence that could provide more clarity on both sides.
How successful implementing these cameras would be across all cantons is yet to be seen. Installing cameras on police in all cantons is going to take a while because each of Switzerland’s 26 cantons has its own surveillance laws.
In Bern for example police cameras are only used at large public events such as soccer matches or political demonstrations. Theoretically the cameras are only used at these events and only if the police commander orders their use.
Markus Siegenthaler data protection officer for the canton of Bern said that it would be necessary for cantonal officials to change the data protection policies if these cameras are to be implemented all the time.
“If the police commander gives the word, it is just a technical question of where on the body to wear them. But in order to make it like Frankfurt-where police can wear body cameras in hot spots at certain times it would be necessary for the cantonal lawmakers to expand the remit and create a corresponding regulation in our police law,” he told local media.
Whether the Swiss public would get an opportunity to vote on installing police surveillance cameras in a referendum is yet to be seen, but for now the canton of Zurich has paved the way for their use across Switzerland.